Singapore math – some research on its strengths
[22 Jun 2008]
There is some interesting research from the American Institutes for Research on the Singapore math system.
The 2005 study “What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System (and what Singapore can learn from the United States)” is a detailed investigation into what are the most likely reasons that Singapore does so well in international competitions like the TIMSS.
Framework: The study indicates there is a correlation between focused frameworks such as those used in Singapore and good test performance. Singapore offers an alternative mathematics framework for lower-performing students that covers all the mathematics topics in the regular framework, but at a slower pace and with greater repetition, and with support from expert teachers.
Textbooks: Singapore’s textbooks build deep understanding of mathematical concepts while traditional U.S. textbooks rarely get beyond definitions and formulas.
Teaching: Singaporean elementary school teachers are required to demonstrate mathematics skills superior to those of their U.S. counterparts before they begin paid college training to become a teacher. They receive a high level of professional development training (100 hours) each year.
Assessment: Singapore uses more challenging tests and utilizes a value-added approach that rewards schools for individual student progress over time.
This is a diagram representing the Singapore math framework they are referring to:
The summary goes on to list the US strengths.
U.S. Strengths: Although the U.S. mathematics program is weaker than Singapore’s in most respects, the U.S. system is stronger than Singapore’s in some areas. The U.S. frameworks give greater emphasis than Singapore’s to developing important 21st century mathematical skills such as representation, reasoning, making connections, and communication. The frameworks and textbooks also place greater emphasis on applied mathematics, including statistics and probability.
Go here for the complete paper (PDF).
A search of the AIR site for “Singapore” brings up several other interesting comparisons.
The 2007 TIMSS results are due in December 2008. With the changes in Singapore education since the 2003 TIMSS (Teach Less, Learn More and a shift to more collaborative and learner-centred approaches), it will be interesting to see if Singapore is still at the top of the heap.
BTW, you can test yourself on some of the TIMMS math questions up to grade 12 level. Good luck!